If you aren’t an English native speaker, you’ll almost always be required to sit an English language proficiency test as part of your application to study abroad at an English-speaking university. The two most accepted English language tests worldwide are the International English Language Test System (IELTS) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) tests.
Whilst both accurately test your level of English and are widely accepted across over thousands of institutions worldwide, the two tests are different in their approach, structure and teaching criteria, so you should think carefully about which one you’ll choose to sit.
What is IELTS?
The IELTS is an English language test that is used for educational, immigration and occupational purposes and is accepted by over 9,000 institutions across 130 countries worldwide. Jointly administered by the British Council, University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations and IDP Education Australia, IELTS uses British English and is favored by countries throughout the world including UK and institutions in Commonwealth nations such as New Zealand and Australia, USA, Canada, Ireland and much more. Depending on the entry requirements of your study programme, you might need to take either the Academic or General Training IELTS exam.
What is TOEFL?
The TOEFL test seeks to test your ability to communicate in English in specifically academic, university and classroom-based settings. TOEFL is administered by the US-based organization the Education Testing Service, and so is conducted in American English. This test is more likely to be favored by American institutions.
Similarities between IELTS and TOEFL
Both test the four main language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. They are both standardized tests which- in theory- means that the scores are consistent throughout the world.
There is not much difference in price either, with both costing between $150 and $250 dollars depending on where you do it.
That is where the similarities end and there are many more differences.
Aside from the different styles of English, each exam is are based on, TOEFL exam questions are almost entirely multiple choice, whereas IELTS requires you to respond to a range of different question types such as short answer, gap-filling, and short essay tasks. The IELTS is significantly shorter than the TOEFL exam, taking approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes versus four hours to complete.
Watch this video to know more about the differences between these two tests.
Exam structures :
Whilst both exams have a speaking component, the IELTS speaking test is taken face-to-face with an examiner. In the TOEFL exam, you’ll answer six questions into a microphone which are recorded and later sent to a group of six reviewers. Your IELTS speaking score will only be determined by a single examiner. The IELTS test will take between 11-14 minutes and may not be on the same day as the other exam components, whilst the TOEFL will take about 20 minutes and is always on the same day as the rest of the exam. Where the IELTS exam features a range of different accents speaking in English, TOEFL only features American speakers.
The written component of the TOEFL exam is typed as opposed to the paper-based IELTS exam. TOEFL requires you to complete two tasks, the first of which will be a five-paragraph essay between 300-350 words. For the second task, you will need to take notes from a section of text and lecture excerpt on the same topic, and use them to construct a 150-225 word response. The IELTS writing test also has two sections, the first of which however requires you to summarise or explain information presented in a graph, chart, table or diagram. In the second, you’ll need to write a 200-250 word response to a prompt that offers a point of view, argument or asks you to write in a particular language style.
The reading tests for both exams are quite similar: the TOEFL reading test is made up of three-five reading sections you will have 20 minutes to complete, each drawn from academic content you’d be likely to encounter in a classroom. You will have to answer a series of multiple-choice questions testing how well you’ve understood the texts.
The IELTS reading test has three sections also each 20 minutes long and with texts academic in nature, but with a wider range of question types that could be anything from ‘fill in the gaps’ to the short answer. Questions are also designed to test how well you’ve understood the text in its particular use of language, ideas, and style.
Tests vary quite significantly in their listening components. The TOEFL listening test is between 40-60 minutes long and involves you listening to excerpts from university lectures or conversations on a university campus. You will be required to take notes whilst listening and answer a series of multiple-choice questions afterward. In the IELTS listening test, students can answer questions whilst they are listening to the recordings and will need to respond to a number of different question types and exercises of different lengths.
The IELTS is graded on a band system from 1-9, with your overall score being an average of your separate scores in all four tests. Your overall score will be rounded to the nearest half-band, i.e. if your overall average is 6.25, it will be rounded up to a final score of 6.5. TOEFL is a single test that is graded out of 120 points.